As the season wears on, most college football teams across the nation seem to get better and better.
The flip side of that coin is the simple fact that the early season is often filled with more than a few bumps in the road.
Depending on how big those bumps are, it could be the difference between a history-making year and a forgettable season.
So who got the short end of the stick this year?
There are a number of teams around the nation that faced rough schedules and have never seemed to live up to expectations after that. Here's our list of 10 college football teams that were screwed by their schedules.
We're going to start with one of the new additions to the SEC, Missouri.
First, we all know that the SEC features probably the toughest conference schedule around, and the East Division is certainly enjoying a resurgence this season.
But Missouri didn't have much lead time before jumping into the fire.
After a Week 1 warm-up against an FCS opponent, the Tigers hosted a Top 10 Georgia Bulldogs team that was then—and is again now—a favorite to win the SEC East.
The Bulldogs rudely welcomed the Tigers, handing Missouri a 41-20 loss.
The second game of the conference schedule (in Week 4) wasn't much better, as the Tigers traveled to Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C., to take on the Top 10 Gamecocks.
Again, the Tigers came up short, and before anyone could catch their breath, Missouri was 0-2 in conference.
It wasn't until this past Saturday that Missouri finally got that all-important first conference win—against Kentucky.
We're now left to wonder what might have been if Mizzou had only been fortunate enough to face the cupcakes of the SEC up front rather than late in the season.
Let's keep it in the SEC, shall we?
The other new addition to the conference, Texas A&M, also drew the ire of the SEC schedulers this season.
In Week 2 (which ended up being the season opener for the Aggies after their Week 1 contest against Louisiana Tech was postponed), Texas A&M had to face off against what turned out to be a very good Florida team.
Welcome to the SEC.
Not only did Texas A&M draw a cross-division game in the conference opener, it drew perhaps one of the most solid, complete teams in the nation.
Before the Aggies had even played a game, they were faced with a reborn SEC powerhouse in Florida.
Is it any wonder the Gators left Kyle Field with a 20-17 victory?
Whether or not a few weeks of experience would have been enough for A&M to reverse the three-point deficit is up for debate, but few programs in the country would willingly opt to face Florida in the season opener.
Boise State makes our list for a slightly different reason than most.
The Broncos began the season with their typical trip to a BCS-AQ program. Only this time, Boise State came up just short against the Michigan State Spartans.
But as the season wore on, that loss began to look worse and worse as the Spartans stumbled again and again.
Michigan State, once ranked in the Top 10, is now 5-4 and unranked. That clearly hurts Boise State's strength of schedule.
Even if Boise State runs the table at this point—a distinct possibility—and finishes the season 11-1, there's little chance the Broncos will be able to bust up the BCS because of the now-ugly loss to MSU.
Similarly, BYU, also a team expected to be pretty good this season, has run into quite a bit of trouble, and the ugly win against the Cougars won't be doing Boise State any favors either.
It doesn't help that perennial powerhouse TCU has left the Mountain West for the greener pastures of the Big 12. Without any currently ranked teams on Boise State's schedule in the past or future, it will be hard for BSU fans to make an argument for BCS inclusion this season.
With both Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for both the Big Ten championship game and any bowl berths, there were some who thought Purdue would finally shake off the mantle of the past decade and emerge as a contender for the Leaders Division.
Unfortunately for Boilermakers fans, the early Big Ten schedule in 2012 was far too much for the upstart Boilers to handle.
Purdue started the Big Ten season with games against Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State—three games that almost guaranteed an 0-3 start in conference play.
Purdue has since lost to Minnesota to start 0-4 and will host Penn State next weekend—bringing up the real chance of an 0-5 conference start for the Boilers.
It's safe to say now that there will be no Leaders Division run for Purdue this season.
There were high hopes for the Utes this season.
The hoopla of their first season as an AQ program in the Pac-12 was behind them, and this once-powerful non-AQ team could get down to the business of earning a BCS berth via more traditional means.
But before the Pac-12 season could even get under way, the Utes ran into a feisty Utah State Aggies team that was hungry for a win over its in-state rival.
When the conference season did start, Utah found most of its tough divisional games up front.
A Week 4 trip to Arizona State that resulted in a loss was followed by a Week 6 visit from USC—also a loss.
Week 7 saw the Utes travel to UCLA to take on a very good Bruins team, and just like that, Utah was in an 0-3 hole in the Pac-12.
A cross-division game against Oregon State in Week 8 didn't help matters, and Utah had to wait until Week 9 to get its first conference win of 2012 against Cal.
With all of the tough games loaded at the front of the Utes' schedule this season, they found themselves in an early hole too deep from which to escape, and their current 1-4 record in the Pac-12 has them sitting at the bottom of the South Division.
There's always next year...
The lone Big East program on our list is Pittsburgh.
It's hard to say that an FCS program on the schedule is a potential stumbling block, but Pitt managed to find a way to lose to Youngstown State to open the 2012 season.
That one game had to erase any thought of a Big East run this season.
If it didn't, Pitt's Week 2 performance in its conference opener against Cincinnati sure did.
The Panthers were an unlikely 0-2 heading into Week 3's visit from Virginia Tech.
A rebound of sorts (against Va Tech and another FCS program, Gardner-Webb) evened the Panthers' record at 2-2, but as soon as Pitt made it back to the conference games, more losses were quick to follow.
Again, it's hard to look back at a scheduled game against Youngstown State as something that can really “screw” a team over, but that loss, combined with a Week 2 showdown with a conference title favorite in Cincinnati, never really allowed Pittsburgh to find any rhythm this season.
Michigan State came into the 2012 season as the front-runner in the Legends Division, having won the division title in 2011.
The problem for MSU was the fact that it had lost much of its offensive muscle and would be forced to rely on its very strong defense.
After nine weeks, Michigan State still fields the nation's fifth-best defense, surrendering just 267.4 yards per game.
MSU is also in the top 10 in scoring defense, allowing 15.0 points per game.
So if defense wins championships, why are the Spartans 5-4? Because offense still wins games.
Michigan State has lost three conference games by a combined six points.
Because Michigan State's offense is so inexperienced this season, it wasn't too crazy to think that Mark Dantonio and his staff would need a little while to bring the youngsters up to speed. Unfortunately, there wasn't much time for that with games against both Notre Dame and Ohio State coming in the first half of the season.
Now, instead of a maturing quarterback taking a ranked MSU team into the late season with a shot at the Big Ten title, the Spartans are limping into November with just five wins and no realistic shot at a return trip to Indianapolis.
Wow, what a pitiful mess we have in Auburn this season.
While Arkansas' collapse may be more shocking, the Tigers' inability to win games is still a surprise.
We could go into how the SEC is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but rather than dump more of the Kool-Aid on you, we figured it would be best to focus on just how tough Auburn's early-season draw was this year.
First, Auburn faced off against a Clemson team many thought would—and still could—compete for an ACC championship, and maybe even a national title.
Then Mississippi State went ahead and won its first SEC opener since 1999 in Week 2 against Auburn. Who knew?
Now pile on with a Week 4 visit from LSU, and a 1-3 start isn't as mind-blowing as it could have been.
What is particularly surprising, however, is how Gene Chizik and company have been completely unable to regroup after the slow start.
Auburn is now a pitiful 1-7 and is bringing up the rear in the SEC with an 0-6 conference mark.
There was a time not all that long ago when Tennessee was in the Top 25 with an SEC opener in Week 3 against Florida was the coming-out party for the resurgent Volunteers.
In hindsight, that all looks pretty silly.
The SEC schedule-makers didn't do Tennessee or Derek Dooley any favors this season, putting Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, Alabama and South Carolina up front for the Vols.
Those five teams are a combined 36-5 through Week 9. Is it any wonder Tennessee fell to each of them?
Tennessee does show some early signs of recovery; it simply takes some time to get the right personnel in place for the new schemes. But with a 3-5 start, and becoming just the second program in the SEC to start 0-5 in three consecutive seasons, we have to wonder if Dooley will get the chance to finish what he's started in Knoxville.
Maybe if next season Tennessee starts out against Kentucky and Vandy...
There were a lot of high hopes in Ann Arbor back in August.
The Wolverines were a preseason Top 10 team, fresh off a Sugar Bowl championship and seemingly loaded with talent up front.
But Week 1 saw Michigan play the closest thing to a pro team we have in college football, as the talented Alabama Crimson Tide absolutely picked apart Michigan on both sides of the ball.
The Wolverines were barely able to recover against Air Force before a Week 4 meeting with Notre Dame.
Looking at the rankings as they are now, losses to Alabama and Notre Dame don't look so bad.
But just imagine where Michigan would be in the rankings today if those games hadn't appeared on the 2012 schedule, or at least hadn't been all within the first month.
Michigan really doesn't have anyone to blame for these games other than itself. After all, nonconference games aren't forced upon anyone in the FBS.
But that doesn't mean this particular schedule didn't screw Michigan over pretty solidly this past September.
That's why the Wolverines top our list of 10 college football teams screwed by their schedules.